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what else are friends for?

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“I saw someone interesting getting taken into the holding cells today,” Cliff announced in his mellow baritone, the remark as soothing as if he were commenting on the weather. He and Keith mirrored each other at the sheriff’s table, nursing tar-black coffee from chipped and mismatched mugs. “Oh?” Keith arched an eyebrow.

“More of interest to your daughter, admittedly. A certain reformed delinquent?”

“Ah.” Sometimes Keith wondered if he could even experience surprise anymore, or if that emotion was now permanently shut off from his system, scratched off his range of emotions. All he seemed able to do was muster up a weary sigh, and take another sip of the coffee to brace himself. “Thanks, Cliff,” he said, his hand creeping towards his cell phone. “Guess even Eli Navarro deserves the best representation.”

“Speaking off, tell Veronica I’m still looking forward to seeing her strut her stuff in the courtroom someday. I marked my calendar when I heard she was going into law. I was very much looking forward to it.”

“Sure, Cliff.”

* * *

An hour later, Veronica Mars was facing down a surly former PCHer, his hands knotted into fists on top of the table.

“Affray. What the hell is affray?” Weevil demanded.

Memories of her P.I. licensing exam came looming up out of the fog. “Affray,” she recited from memory, “is a public order crime related to disturbing the peace, referring specifically to fighting in a public place in such a way as to cause alarm or distress to others.”

Weevil made an incredulous noise. “I don’t even know these rich assholes pressing charges. They’re Silicon Valley types. I was nowhere near ‘em, V.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing they could stick on you, since you didn’t punch anyone out this time. It’s not that big of a charge anyway, mostly translated as ‘being annoying in public’.”

A staccato rap at the interview room’s door made both their heads turn, and two different expressions flared into place at the sight of the arrival.

“Vinnie van Lowe!” Veronica’s entire face lit up like a dog spotting a particularly juicy bone, something to sink her teeth into. “How dare you call one of my best friends a public nuisance? You know that sort of thing hurts a man’s feelings.”

Meanwhile, Weevil muttered a profanity in Spanish.

The other private eye was lounging against the doorjamb, poking his head into the room, a crooked grin flickering at the younger woman. (Old habits, old rhythms. She could feel herself settling into it like a well-worn groove, bantering and parrying with the ease of long practice.) “Hey,” Vinnie said, spreading his hands. “Your pal was causing an affray.”

“Any chance for a Vinnie Classic this time around? Tell me who you’re working for and why they want to drag a good man down? He’s a respectable businessman now, you know.”

“Really appreciate it if you didn’t talk about me like I wasn’t in the room,” Weevil groused.

But she’d sunk her teeth in, and after an affectionate (and slightly possessive) pat on Weevil’s shoulder, it was clear she wouldn’t let this go.

“The Classic,” Vinnie mused aloud, absentmindedly popping a stick of gum into his mouth, chewing too loudly, smacking too loudly. “I don’t do that sort of thing anymore, sweetums. I got principles, you know. I am an upstanding member of society. I have a Youtube channel.

She simply levelled a stare at him: long, slow, and even, until he burst out into a chortling laugh, accompanied by an ungraceful little snort. He waved his hand dismissively. “Yeah, alright, who am I kidding? This can be my Happy Hanukkah present to you, and yours to me if you pay me double—ladies of the night gotta have their trinkets, after all. L’chaim!”

Is it Christmas already?” Veronica said. “I couldn’t tell. It’s too sunny here. I miss New York’s snowstorms, blizzards, and general bad attitude.”

“Seriously, V,” Weevil broke in, his voice sharper than usual. “Can you stop joking around for just, like, one second and get me outta here?”

She looked over at him. And then Veronica was suddenly jolted by the things that were new and different after nine years: the extra lines etched into his face, the exhaustion at the corners of his eyes, and the slight paunchiness of a father, rather than solid blocky muscle of a gang member. Her own paramour might be away for the next 104 days, but Eli’s wife was waiting for him at home with a beaming daughter. Valentina. Another ‘V’.

Something tight and rigid and combative inside her relaxed, the way it only did with about five people. Veronica could count them on one hand.

“Alright. Come on, amigo. We’ve got some rich assholes to bust.” She made little boxing motions, bobbing on the heels of her feet. “The terrible twosome, back together?”

“Can’t really say I missed this part of it.”

“How do you think I feel? People only call me when they’re in trouble and need something. You don’t call, you don’t write…” She gave him the woeful puppy-dog look that she’d honed over the years, and he grumbled, predictably.

But Weevil—Eli’s—smile spoke otherwise, and his arm curled around her narrow shoulders, with a squeeze and a wordless thanks as they sauntered out of the room to file more paperwork, trailed by Vinnie’s popping gum.